Many couples date for years without deciding to move in together or get married, avoiding the title of married or common-law, making it much easier for them to end their relationship without paying spousal support.
Obviously once kids are in the picture, it becomes more complicated, whether those kids are shared or come from previous relationships.
What is spousal support?
Spousal support, also sometimes called alimony, is money paid from one spouse to the other after their relationship has ended. It’s a legal obligation, determined by a court, after a marriage or common-law relationship is broken up.
What Is considered common-law?
In Ontario, for a couple to be considered a common-law relationship, they must be living together in a conjugal relationship for three years or more. If there is a child involved, then the couple must only be living together for a year.
In September, the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario determined that a wealthy businessman in Toronto will have to pay more than $50,000 a month in spousal support 1.
He had been dating the woman but didn’t live with her and shared no children with her, since 2001.
This court case may set a precedent moving forward, that you may not have to share a main property to be considered common-law anymore.
The court found that “lack of a shared residence is not determinative of the issues of cohabitation.”
There have been many cases in which the court has found cohabitation to exist when the couple stayed together only intermittently.
Lisa Climans, 38 at the time, and Michael Latner, 46 at the time, began a romantic relationship after meeting each other in October 2001, both coming from previous failed marriages, with children from those previous relationships.
For years, they maintained separate homes but behaved as a couple both privately and publicly. They went on vacations together, he showered her in expensive
jewellery, and they talked about living together. Elsewhere, she quit her job and would regularly sleep at his house.
Latner had proposed to Climans many times and often referred to her by his last name.
Climans had accepted the proposals, however when it was time to sign a marriage contract, she refused.
Throughout the 14 years of their relationship, they kept separate bank accounts and never owned property together, but Latner had given Climens thousands of dollars every month, a credit card, paid off her mortgage and gave her many expensive gifts. The court determined that he had provided her and her children with a “lavish lifestyle” and they were clearly in a very committed relationship.
When the relationship came to an end in 2015, Climans asked the courts to recognize her as Latner’s spouse and pay her support. Latner argued that she had been his girlfriend and travel companion, nothing more, therefore never legally spouses with no support owed.
After an eight-day trial, Superior Court Justice Sharon Shore sided with Climans in 2019. The ruling was that they were in fact long-term spouses, and despite them owning separate homes, they lived together at Latner’s cottage for part of the summer and during winter vacations in Florida.
The original ruling ordered Latner to pay Climans $53,077 a month for spousal support, indefinitely.
Latner appealed this.
The Appeal Court agreed with Shore’s decision that cohabitation can occur even when a couple only stays together intermittently. They discovered that Shore had made an error in deciding how much Latner would have to pay, based on when they first began cohabitating.
Shore believed that it was from the get-go, however the Appeals Court determined they hadn’t started cohabitating until their first stay together at his cottage, which means their relationship didn’t meet the threshold for indefinite payments. Therefore, Latner must only pay spousal support for 10 years.
What does this mean for my relationship?
The rules of common-law and spousal support are complicated. Even if you’re living separately from your partner, with no children involved, it’s possible your partner could go after you for spousal support.
It’s important that you don’t allow your spouse to get used to a lavish or expensive lifestyle that they would not be able to maintain on their own.
If you’re in a long-term relationship with someone, be open and honest in your conversations about what you are both looking for, and the expectations involved should you break up.
Should I speak to a family law lawyer?
Even if you’re still in your relationship, it’s not a bad idea to have a conversation with a family law lawyer about the details of your relationship, and what could be demanded of you in court, should you decide to end your relationship.
Don’t let that scare you. Just realize, that even if you have no intention of marriage or living together, a court could still deem your relationship a common-law marriage.
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